|Synopsis of Silhouettes in a Silent Land
Chapter 1 - A Land Fit for Heroes
Charlie is in a loveless marriage and living in poverty in the 1920s. The opening scene is a flash back to the First World War in the trenches, where his troubles really begin. Back in 1924, we see Charlie desperately trying to find work to feed his family. In his local pub, we are introduced to his mother Fanny, and as he reminisces about his childhood, we begin to get an understanding of the brutality in his life. Eventually with no hope of employment on the horizon, he succumbs to taking an illegal option. The subsequent events will shape the rest of his life and that of his family.
Chapter 2 - The Great Hall
In 1877 Jane is about to get married. Although she hails from the Isle of Wight, she is living in Yorkshire. We are then taken back about fifty years to her Grandfather's wedding on the island. It was a time of much unrest amongst the agricultural workers of the time and as he goes through his early life, he endures much heartbreak and hunger. His luck changes when his employer inherits Shibden Hall in Yorkshire and he moves with him to be his gardener. Several years later, his granddaughter Jane joins him as a maid at the Hall. Supernatural events lead her to a meeting with a young Yorkshire man, Tommy Lister with whom she falls in love. The strange happenings continue until her wedding day when the spectre is finally at peace. At the end of the chapter when Jane is an old lady, we learn the story of the phenomenon and the circle is closed.
Chapter 3 - The Gamekeeper's Daughter
This is the story of the gamekeeper's daughter Elizabeth. Her father catches her liasing with a gypsy boy and is very angry. However, when she is summoned to the manor house to act as a companion for an elderly relative staying there, she meets James Somerville, the young master of the house and a brief but fulfilling relationship ensues. Gamekeepers were respected members of the lower classes, and when it emerges that Elizabeth has fallen pregnant, her parents are ashamed and angry. They send her away to live with her aunt and after having her daughter Emma, she is banished even further to live with her brother, also a gamekeeper. Here she meets the local blacksmith and they marry. After discovering that his wife was tainted when they met, he decides to emigrate and take his family to Australia. In Elizabeth's twilight years, she is finally able to ascertain her daughter's lineage.
Chapter 4 - Providence, Perseverance and Progress
Robert and Esther are a poor couple living in London in the early years of the nineteenth century. One night after a close encounter with the law, Robert finds himself at a non-conformist meeting. He is moved by what he hears, but has no time to consider what he has heard until much later. To avoid his debtors the couple flee to Hertfordshire, to Esther's hometown. A few years later Robert hears word of the London preacher, and moves his family to Lewes to join the church he has just set up there. Esther becomes a midwife after a bad experience at the hands of an incompetent doctor during labour. The family eventually move to the coast where Robert begins working for the railway. Meanwhile, their daughter steals from her employer and is sent to jail. As an old man, Robert reflects on his life and realises that progress has done away with the need for providence and perseverance.
Chapter 5 - Trouble at' Mill
At the turn of the nineteenth century, we find Tommy Lister's grandparents Charles and Lydia Goldthorpe who are weavers. The Industrial Revolution is in its infancy and at first life is pleasant and happy for the villagers who run their little cottage industries. But soon factories begin to spring up making such small concerns unviable. People are forced to work in the factories to earn a living. Young children work alongside their parents and often become deformed or maimed in the harsh environment. Tommy's grandfather becomes an active member of the Luddite movement. He is captured and thrown into jail along with many others. The movement is quashed and the fate of the Yorkshire weavers is sealed. One of their daughters, Tamar is a gifted seamstress and is able to avoid the horrors of the factories by being apprenticed in a neighbouring village. Here she meets her husband, a plasterer and they have nine children. When the youngest, Tommy (whom we met in chapter two) is just 18 months old, tragedy besets the
Chapter 6 - A Sweep is as Lucky as Lucky Can Be
Billy is a young chimney sweep's apprentice living in London at the end of the eighteenth century. He lives with his Master and has no idea who his real parents are. He manages to survive his harsh childhood and becomes a journeyman sweep and then a Master. He goes searching for his own apprentices and comes across a young orphan girl Ruth. The workhouse where she lives pays Billy to take her as his apprentice (as was the custom), and for a while all is well. They move to Brighton. However, when she grows too big to go up the chimneys, he decides he will take her as his 'wife'. At 13, she has her first child. The following years bring one tragedy after another. A chimney sweep's life it seems, was never lucky.
Chapter 7 - When Dog's Howl
In Wiltshire in the1820s, Charles Compton dies. As a poor farm labouring family, his widow and children find it increasingly difficult to survive as the introduction of machines removes the need for so many workers. Charles's son John becomes involved with the Swing Riots that are sweeping across the south of England. One night whilst on his way to a meeting he is distracted by a strange encounter with an old woman in the woods. Like the Luddite movement, the Swing Riots were short lived and the family struggles on as best they can. John goes on to have children of his own. After the death of his first wife, he remarries, but his son George has difficulty bonding with his stepmother. He becomes somewhat reclusive and meets a young playmate Emma (The gamekeeper's daughter from chapter 3), who also has problems fitting in. As children, they too encounter the strange old woman in the woods, who gives Emma information about her mother's whereabouts. George encourages her to go and find her mother, which she does only to be turned away. Emma returns to live with her grandparents but later moves back to Pitton where she and George are reunited.
Chapter 8 - Brandy for the Parson & 'Baccy for the Clerk
This is a story of smuggling on the Sussex coast. Several generations of the Cheal family are involved and during the course of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, we see the changes in method, policing, and types of contraband. This dangerous but rural and lucrative existence is dramatically changed, and the villagers begin to gravitate towards the towns to find work.
Chapter 9 - Fallen Women
Here we meet Fanny (Charlie's mum from chapter 1), and learn about her life and that of her mother Margaret. Living in the filthy back slums of Brighton, they both struggle to find happiness and love in an environment that has little of either to offer. Fanny has to make the hardest decision of her life after she gives birth to her son in the Workhouse.
Chapter 10 - Jessie's Story
Jessie's father dies when she is young. She is sent to live with her wealthy Uncle Noah in Brighton and is given a good upbringing. She has a semi-arranged marriage and the couple move to Canada. We hear about the arduous journey undertaken with two young children, and the struggles that face them when they finally arrive in Edmonton. When her husband dies, Jessie remarries only to be beset by one disaster after another. The burning down of her homestead and the revelation that she is in a bigamous marriage with a 'man of colour' are just two of the traumas that she has to face.
Chapter 11 - The Hangman Beckons
Cephas Tree grows up in poverty in Hastings and Brighton during the eighteenth century. When he is in his sixties, he commits a burglary with his daughter Mary and is caught due to his ignorance and illiteracy. The couple are sentenced to hang, but Mary's sentence is commuted to transportation. She goes to Australia, but Cephas is forced to await his punishment on board a rat infested prison hulk ship.
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